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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

Tom Friedman Is 100 Percent Correct



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Friedman in today’s New York Times:

Let’s stop putting the burden of education improvements just on teachers. Parents play a huge role in classroom success.

In recent years, we’ve been treated to reams of op-ed articles about how we need better teachers in our public schools and, if only the teachers’ unions would go away, our kids would score like Singapore’s on the big international tests. There’s no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward more such teachers. But here’s what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents. Parents more focused on their children’s education can also make a huge difference in a student’s achievement.

How do we know? Every three years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., conducts exams as part of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems — the most important skills for succeeding in college and life. America’s 15-year-olds have not been distinguishing themselves in the PISA exams compared with students in Singapore, Finland and Shanghai.

To better understand why some students thrive taking the PISA tests and others do not, Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the exams for the O.E.C.D., was encouraged by the O.E.C.D. countries to look beyond the classrooms. So starting with four countries in 2006, and then adding 14 more in 2009, the PISA team went to the parents of 5,000 students and interviewed them “about how they raised their kids and then compared that with the test results” for each of those years, Schleicher explained to me. Two weeks ago, the PISA team published the three main findings of its study:

“Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.”

Schleicher explained to me that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.”

The rest here.

Bella Swan – Anti-Feminist? Pro-Life Advocate? Swoony, Misguided Teen?



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Okay, so I admit it. I watched Breaking Dawn, Part One last night, even though I’d had a little fun making The Twilight Hater’s Survival Guide for those less enamored with the vampire/wolf/human love triangle.

One of the interesting issues surrounding the movie was Bella’s pregnancy and her decision to have the baby even though it was “crushing her from the inside.” Pro-lifers are happy that a young woman is portrayed as pro-life, but screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg assures us that Bella’s decision to have the baby is not pro-life propaganda.  In an interview with ScreenRant, she explains her position:

“It was a deciding factor for me of whether or not to do the movie. If I could not find my way into it that didn’t violate my beliefs (because I am extremely pro-choice very outspoken about it, very much a feminist) I would not have written this move,” she said.

“They could have offered me the bank and I still wouldn’t have. In order to embrace it I had to find a way to deal with it. I also had no interest in violating Stephenie’s belief system or anyone on the other side. I feel a great responsibility that everyone should have their point-of-view. And their beliefs respected. So I really was struggling with it until I talked with my sister-in-law who’s actually a former ACLU feminist lawyer and a fan of the books. And she pointed  something out to me (which is quite obvious but which I had overlooked) which is that having a child is a choice.

“It is a choice to have a child. And having not made that choice in my own life, having actually done the opposite, that had not really occurred to me. But when she pointed that out I was like, ‘Okay, I know my way in.’ And so for me, it was that Bella chooses this. Now someone else may not perceive that, and that’s great. They have their own point-of-view which is whatever their own point-of-view is. I didn’t need to make a statement about it, I just needed it to not be a statement on the other side as well. It’s a story about a woman who chooses to have a child. For me. That may or may not be how it is in the book. And some people will have issues with it.”

(Let’s pause for a moment. We’re always told that advocates of abortion do not actually advocate abortion. They aren’t pro-abortion, they say.  They are pro-choice. This, apparently, is where the screenwriter finally found herself, but it took some doing.)

Movie reviewer Rebecca Cusey, however, appreciates the pro-life message that Bella’s character represents by refusing to bow to pressure to abort the child. But is it enough to balance out the other morally questionable decisions Bella makes? 

“Defenders of the Twilight Saga point out that it promotes chastity until marriage. Bella’s decision to continue a dangerous pregnancy to term is absolutely a pro-life statement. She even argues for her baby against some who would abort,” she writes.

However, she fears that the pro-life message isn’t worth allowing your kids to see the movies.

Bella — only 18 — “gives up friends, family, hobbies, outside interests, college, and even life itself to be with her glittery vampire boyfriend,” Cusey writes. In a review of Eclipse, she wrote about Bella’s obsession with the cold vampire.  “This, of course, is why God gave fathers to seventeen year olds. With the benefit of years of perspective, he knows that while she may always want Edward, there will be a great many things she will desire in addition to him. Fathers get out the metaphorical hose and try to keep seventeen-year-olds from doing anything stupid. Sadly, Bella’s father is reduced to a bleating voice in the background as the movie focuses in on her angsty, intense passion for Edward. And Jacob.”

By the time Breaking Dawn happens, it’s too late. Bella has decided to marry Edward and everything is happy. 

Until. 

The baby.  (Or is it a baby? What happens when a vampire and a human mate?)

 “Even if he were joy and happiness personified, I fear a love that isolates a girl from everything she holds dear. A relationship that requires a girl to cut off friends, lie to parents, remove herself from relatives, and give up her dreams is not something to celebrate. It’s a reason to call an abuse hotline.”

Rebecca also nicely gives parents the scoop as they decide whether to allow their kids to see the flicks. (Also, click through here to read about their honeymoon scenes, and whether you want your kid in the theater when the feathers fly.)

Rating: Rated PG-13, the film was originally rated R, but modified. The source material includes passionate married sex and a bloody birth. Both are depicted, but for the PG-13 rating, most of the action happens beyond the sight of the camera lens.

Who Should See It: Only fans of the series. Think twice about teens and tweens, depending how comfortable you are with them seeing portrayal of sex and bloody violence.

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Occupy’s Misogyny



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When are the feminists going to speak out on the abuse of women that’s happening at the hands of the Occupy crowd? Rapes and sexual assaults are rampant among the Occupy movement in cities across the nation. According to ABC News, this past Saturday night a 23-year-old reported being raped by a 50-year-old inside a tent at Occupy Philadelphia. Similarly, a 14-year-old child was allegedly raped at Occupy Dallas. And at Occupy Cleveland, a 19-year-old told police she was raped after sharing a tent with an unknown man. After reporting her rape at Occupy Baltimore, a young woman claimed occupiers refused to help find her attacker. Now reports of rape and attempted rape in Zuccotti Park are surfacing. These are just the ones that were reported.

In addition to rapists, suicidal folks are causing emotional distress within the movement. After a 32-year-old man shot himself inside his tent at Occupy Burlington, Vermont protesters were so traumatized that they readily agreed to pack up and end their demonstration.

Besides rapes and suicides, occupiers have injured women in the midst of their shameless attempts to grab attention. A couple weeks ago, I attended Americans for Prosperity’s “Defending the American Dream” Summit, which was crashed by Occupy D.C. I was able to depart safely, with my frightened guests in tow, as protesters hissed vile remarks in our direction.  Others weren’t that lucky. The Daily Caller reports that an elderly woman was pushed down the stairs during the occupiers’ stampede into the convention center. Not one protester stopped to help her, even as she lay in pain from severe injuries to her wrists, ankles, and legs.

On a daily basis, Concerned Women for America (CWA) staff, mostly young females, feel threatened by the Occupy D.C. camp, while they trek across the park on their way to work. Recently, one staffer was walking through the park and witnessed a woman on the sidewalk vomiting and heaving uncontrollably, no doubt after a night of drugs or alcohol, and only a few paces down passed an open tent where two people were having sex in full view of the public. Unfortunately, these are routine observations.  Our young women get no respect from what has essentially devolved into an unruly mob across the street.

In addition to public safety, what do the anti-capitalist goals of the occupiers mean for the future of American women?

Women don’t want government handouts. What women really need is greater opportunity created by economic freedom, not by Congress. Famed economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote, “Our generation has forgotten that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom.” He continued, “It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves.”

Whether a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom, a business owner, or a part-time worker — or all of the above during different seasons of her life — it is important that she be given the opportunity. And the reality is that our free-market system does just that. Here’s the good news, folks. The glass ceiling has been shattered. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, women now constitute approximately 47 percent of the labor force and make up nearly 33 percent of business owners.

Of course, America’s economic system isn’t free of fraud and corruption, but protesters need to realize that corruption and greed are inherent in all economic systems, because they are inherent in human nature — the same human nature that, sadly, leads to rapes, thefts, and drug overdoses. And no amount of anarchism or interference of a nanny state can change that fact. The things that change our baser instincts are faith and the rule of law.

So, how many more women will be raped and assaulted before this disillusioned, anti-woman movement is wiped out? Women deserve better and, thanks to the free market, they can achieve greater. The Occupy movement has spiraled downward into an anarchist, opportunistic, and dangerous subgroup. It’s time to stop babying the occupiers and make them live by the same rules as the rest of us.

— Penny Nance is chief executive officer and president of Concerned Women for America.

Confessions of a Library Fugitive



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As someone who once had to pay a $300 library fine, this article made me smile. Then, I felt bad about my own ineptitude.  Then, I smiled again.

Society makes mothers feel we must take our kids to the library for that sweet, special book bonding time.  You know, the reading circle and the snacks?  Sometimes, they even throw in a craft-making time under the gigantic mural of the characters from Charlotte’s Web.

But, I’ve finally realized that I’m not responsible enough to have a library card.  You would’ve thought that I could’ve realized it before having three kids, but you know what they say about denial and the river in Egypt.  (Plus, since I’m an author, I feel like I’m betraying my own livelihood – if my library card is revoked the libraries will stop buying my books?)

After leaving New York, Philadelphia, and Lexington, Kentucky only to find library books stuffed in moving boxes months later, I’ve finally confessed to my children that we are just going to have to start buying books. 

There.

I’ve said it.

It’s liberating, it’s cheaper, and I don’t have to worry about police arresting me when I go downtown anymore.

And to Rebecca Cusey, who had to pay a $500 fine?  One word of advice.  Never, ever check out movies from the library!  Those will get you every time!

Girl Scouts Hire Lead Singer of ‘Queer Rock’ Band



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In 2002, Joshua Ackley formed the Dead Betties, a “homopunk” band. Publicity shots show him dressed in women’s clothing, and in music videos he is apparently naked and simulating masturbation. The video for the Dead Betties’ song “Hellevator” portrays a woman being strangulated in an elevator shaft. 

Today he works for the Girl Scouts in media relations, issuing press releases and posting on the Girl Scouts official blog.

In fact, Josh Ackley was the adult facilitator in the Girl Scouts “no adults allowed” workshop at the U.N. — the workshop where the Planned Parenthood sex brochure “Healthy, Happy, and Hot” was offered, though Ackley denies it.  

See the new website www.100questionsforthegirlscouts.org for thorough documentation on the Josh Ackley outrage, and many others.   

Ready to get your girls out of the Girl Scouts yet?

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Great Moments in Public Education



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Unbelievable:

Couple Bug Developmentally Disabled Ohio Student To Hear Teacher Bullying

A couple raising a 14-year-old developmentally disabled student say they hid a recording device on the girl to prove a teacher and school aide were bullying her, and the audio and subsequent investigations have led to a lawsuit, the aide’s resignation and disciplinary action for the teacher.

The girl’s mother and the woman’s longtime boyfriend said in court documents that they complained about the mental and emotional abuse to school officials in the Miami Trace district, about 30 miles southwest of Columbus, and then secretly recorded instructors’ comments for four days last spring after their claims were rebuffed.

In the recording, voices identified as aide Kelly Chaffins and teacher Christie Wilt are heard questioning the girl’s weight and how active she is and making derogatory comments about her character and the character of her mother and the boyfriend.

“Are you that damn dumb? Are you that dumb?” Chaffins said. “Oh, my God. You are such a liar. . . . You told me you don’t know. It’s no wonder you don’t have friends. No wonder nobody likes you. Because you lie, cheat . . . steal.”

The boyfriend, who is helping raise the girl, complained earlier through normal channels, and this was the school’s response:

In an email to a social worker in April, [district superintendent Dan] Roberts said he had looked into similar complaints from the boyfriend earlier in the year and found that the girl was lying. “It came to a point where I had to remind the man that his continued false accusations were bordering on harassment and slander,” the email says.

And how does Roberts describe this horrific situation?

“The persons involved fell short of our mission,” Roberts told the Washington Court House Record Herald, which first reported the story. “We’re sincerely sorry for that and we will work very hard to never let that happen again. We need to provide proper training and restate our expectations of how we treat children so that this never happens again.”

Yes, the training course is titled, “How not to be an a–.” Superintendent Roberts should sit in on a few classes as well.

The ‘Elmo’ Puppeteer Speaks



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This is the dumbest thing you’ll read all day, from an interview with the man behind Sesame Street’s Elmo:

“Elmo mirrors that 31 / 2-year-old that watches ‘Sesame Street,’ and he mirrors that 31 / 2-year-old in all of us. Adults would love to live like Elmo, and kids love Elmo because they see themselves in him.”

Who wants to live like Elmo? I’ve never heard that in my life, from any parent. Now, if he said,  “Would you like to live like Spider-Man?” then maybe he’d have a point.

TSA Changes Screening Procedures for Children



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Good news! The brainiacs at the TSA have determined that the amount of explosives that might fit inside a child’s shoe does not pose enough of a danger to force children to take off their shoes at the security-screening checkpoint. The new rules say any child under twelve is exempt from having to remove his or her shoes. No word yet if big-footed children will be selected for additional security screening. Fox News reports:

This weekend marks the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday travel surge. More than 23 million passengers are expected at the nation’s airports, and to make travel a little less hectic, the federal Transportation Security Administration is showcasing some major changes to airline security.

In one key change, kids 12 and younger won’t need to take off their sneakers at the screening check points. Although that change has been in place for a couple of months, the Thanksgiving rush is its first major test.

TSA chief John Pistole told Fox News that the new approach is driven by the intelligence gathered on potential threats.

“Children themselves, of course, are not terrorists. But we also know that they can be used by terrorists to do bad things, which we’ve seen overseas,” he said. “Fortunately we haven’t seen that here.”

Pistole said the decisions also come down to measuring risk, because the TSA can’t protect every passenger and every airplane all of the time. “This is all about risk mitigation, risk management. It’s not risk elimination,” Pistole emphasized, adding that kids are low risk compared to the shoe bomber who tried to bring down a jet over the Atlantic 10 years ago.

“The shoes Richard Reid had in December of ‘01 were large shoes, so simply from an explosives standpoint, smaller shoes, smaller feet – much less likely in terms of something bad.”

If there’s a problem, Pistole said, kids are allowed to pass through the screener a few times, or trace detection can be used to solve the problem in consultation with parents or a guardian.

We’ll see if the actual TSA screeners get the memo or if kids will still be forced to take off their shoes when they travel this Thanksgiving.

What Does Your Pizza Say About You? Herman Cain Weighs In



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GQ has an interview with Herman Cain, in which they ask him about . . . pizza! One thing I learned in the interview is that Godfather’s Pizza is still around. (I knew of it when I was growing up in the 1980s, but haven’t seen or eaten at one once since!)  Who knew there are three Godfather’s restaurants in Nashville? Sounds like a good weekend plan. At any rate, I thought you would enjoy this portion of the interview:

Alan Richman: Do you eat pizza as much as people say you eat pizza?

Herman Cain: No, because I’m very particular about the pizza that I eat. Godfather’s is still a premium-quality product, and I cannot always find that. It’s got to be as good as Godfather’s or I won’t eat it.

Alan Richman: I know you’re the reason for the success of Godfather’s, but did you make the recipe?

Herman Cain: No, no, no. The guy who started it is named Willy Theisen. He started it in 1973, as a single-unit store in Omaha. His recipe was real simple. He wanted it to be Chicago-style, which meant big crust and very tangy sauce. And what he did was, he bought the absolute best ingredients. Because you have different quality pepperoni, different quality hamburger, different quality sausage, different quality cheese. He just put the best-quality products on the Godfather’s pizza.

Alan Richman: I understand that you like lots of meat on your pizza. Is this true?

Herman Cain: Yes.

Alan Richman: We won’t do it today, but we’ll have to argue about this one day, because I’m a crust man.

Herman Cain: You like a thin crust?

Alan Richman: I like a crunchy crust. You just want the meat piled on?

Herman Cain: No, no, no. We balance the ingredients to achieve what we call “a harmony of flavor.”

Alan Richman: This sounds like a Republican platform.

Herman Cain: [laughs] We don’t just throw stuff on there. We actually test, “Do you have too much sausage? Too much beef?” Because we want to balance the flavor out. So it is more scientifically developed than it might appear.

Chris Heath: What can you tell about a man by the type of pizza that he likes?

Herman Cain: [repeats the question aloud, then pauses for a long moment] The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is.

Chris Heath: Why is that?

Herman Cain: Because the more manly man is not afraid of abundance. [laughs]

Devin Gordon: Is that purely a meat question?

Herman Cain: A manly man don’t want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza.

Chris Heath: Are there Democratic pizzas and Republican pizzas?

Herman Cain: Nope, nope, nope. It’s like a good idea: if it’s great pizza, it transcends party affiliation, just like a good idea—like 9-9-9. [laughs]

Read the rest of the interview here, while I go try to find me some thin crust, non-sissy pizza!

Mom Guilt



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Andrea Ferrell’s kids appear to be happy though they do not eat enough vegetables:

Motherhood comes with a lot of guilt. My kids don’t eat enough vegetables. I don’t do enough crafts with them. I don’t have them make their beds daily. Well, ever. I don’t greet them fully dressed and with my act together in the mornings. I don’t give satisfactory answers to my six-year-old’s why-does-God-allow-pain questions. I can’t take organic cupcakes secretly laced with nutritional hummus to every church and school occasion. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to make the most of a golden parenting opportunity. I just watch as my heavy sigh blows it right on by.

Read how she handles this insane parental pressure. And take a load off.

My Son Makes Politico



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Here’s a piece by Ben Smith on kids who had a case of the Obamas in 2008 but have since soured on the president. 

Yes . . . my son is in this category. And, yes, he made me vote for “That One.” We voted for “Huck-a-buck” — his pronunciation — in the primary, though. 

One thing I should clear up though is what I meant by a liberal elementary school. I was referring to the parents here and not the teachers. I have no doubt the teachers were libs, but none of my son’s teachers ever forced any opinion on him. 

National Adoption Month



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Warning: If you adopt a kid from Africa, you might one day find something like this sweet self-portrait in her backpack and be overcome with gratitude for afros and sweet bows. November is National Adoption Month, and some of you reading this have considered adoption, but it’s slipped your mind. Life gets busy, after all, and sometimes it seems too daunting to even begin. Well, what better time to dust off that idea and seriously consider opening up your home to a child?

Last year, I talked to Rita Soronen, the Executive Director of the Dave Thomas Foundation, about how people should go about adopting.  Her response is a helpful, bite-size overview of the process:

A Child is Waiting: A Step By Step Guide to Adoption, a free handbook provided by the Dave Thomas Foundation, helps to clarify the terminology, responds to frequently asked questions, and guides potential adoptive parents through 10 steps to adopt, including:

1.    Decide what type of adoption to pursue: do some self-research and understand adoption and your willingness to accept, love, and commit unconditionally and permanently to a child.

2.    Learn about the cost to adopt and the resources available to assist with the expenses, including adoption subsidies, tax credits, and employer benefits; adopting from foster care costs very little.

3.    Investigate and select an adoption agency: research public and private agencies to understand their processes, policies, and practices.

4.    Work with the adoption agency to complete an application and any required paperwork, attend meetings and orientation sessions, network with other adoptive parents and ask questions.

5.    Complete a home study and any required adoption-preparation classes; learn as much as you can about the dynamics of adoption, childhood development, and the special issues and experiences of children in foster care.

6.    Begin the matching process with a child or sibling group of children, determine what age child you are looking for and how flexible you are in growing your family, learn as much as you can about the child and background of the children with whom you are matched.

7.    Prepare for the child’s arrival: Amend health-insurance policies, obtain original birth certificates, secure new Social Security numbers, finalize school enrollment, negotiate adoption subsidies, make your home child-friendly and support children already in the home.

8.    Bring the child home: Petition the court to adopt, understand the legal process, and work with the adoption agency.

9.    Finalize the adoption in court: Adoption is a legal process and the beginning of your new family — celebrate!

10.    Take advantage of post-adoption services and resources, from parent-support groups and professional services to employer-based benefits.

There are many different ways to approach adoption, but beware. It’s a wonderful, challenging, amazing, painful, beautiful adventure. If you go down that route, someday you might open a backpack and see a sweet “self-portrait” smiling back at you. One that looks nothing like you. 

And it might just bring a tear to your eye. 

On Veterans’ Day, the Church Matters



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My husband went to Iraq in 2007, a year when Veterans’ Day fell on a Sunday.

This might seem strange to you, but it never dawned on me that my husband — my attorney husband who joined the Army Reserves after 9/11 — could be called a “vet.” I mean, he’d been gone just a couple of weeks. Though I was pretty far from my high-school Latin class, I knew that the word came from vetus, meaning “old.” A vet, to me, was a person who had long service in the military, an old guy who seemed to stand more erect than anyone else when the national anthem is played before the high-school basketball game.

When I was getting the kids ready for church that Sunday, it never dawned on me that Veterans’ Day would affect me. In fact, as I struggled to get everyone ready for Sunday school, I wasn’t thinking about what day it was on the calendar.

However, I walked into Zion Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Tenn. holding the kids’ hands and realized that it was going to be even a tougher church service than normal.  

Church was hard anyway.  Something about walking into the old little building caused my social skills to simply disappear. Even casual greetings at church immobilized me. I detested the automatic responses which fall from everyone’s mouths — as if “How are you” is a quarter in the Presbyterian vending machine and “fine” is the conversational candy, all dusty and stale. It doesn’t matter if the dog died, the rent check bounced, or the in-laws are staying an extra week, it seemed the only appropriate response was “fine.” And, frankly, I wasn’t.

But since I could tell the conversations would go no deeper than lyrics to a Lady Gaga ballad, I lied.
 

“Fine, thanks.”

Far worse than casual greetings, however, were the sincere ones. Church members with furrowed brows and low tones of voice, who asked — really, they emphasized — how things were. “Is David in a dangerous place?”

Later, their well-intentioned but overheard questions would reemerge in my children’s dreams. Consequently, “how are you?” led to deception either way . . . whether I answered a reassuring “fine” because the person wanted to hear it or because the kids needed to. I skipped church, but my plan backfired. Within hours, the phone rang off the hook, and I could tell my church friends half-expected to talk me down from a ledge.

“How are you?”

When I worked with youth at a rural Pentecostal church many years ago, we had a “Soul Repo Van” — a dilapidated vehicle we drove to retrieve church-skipping, troubled, teenagers. We showed up on doorsteps of trailers and dragged their hides to church, whether their hides wanted saving or not. A real sense of urgency propelled us — Satan wouldn’t keep our friends from the balm in Gilead. But Presbyterians don’t operate that way: If we skip church, people assume it has less to do with Satan than golf at the country club. Nevertheless, my church-skipping raised eyebrows, because the church vowed to keep an eye on our family in David’s absence.

The next week, I put on my best dress and steeled my nerves. After all, if David could survive a year Iraq, I could survive a Sunday at Zion Presbyterian Church.

“How’re ya doing?” a man asked me as soon as I walked in.

“Awful.”

He smiled and kindly left me alone.

On Veterans’ Day, I sat in front of the congregation in the choir loft and winked at my kids sitting on the hard, wooden pew several feet away — alone. A conspicuously vacant space beside them testified to how their little lives had changed too. However, a kind, no-nonsense lady reached over and gently pulled my son up when he wasn’t standing for the Scripture reading, just as David would’ve done had he been there.

Something about the service weakened my composure. Maybe it was how the pastor explained to the kids in the “mini-sermon” we don’t worship the flag, but it represents values that enable us to worship God. Maybe it was the Revolutionary soldiers graves I passed as I entered the sanctuary, or the tired eyes of the WWII veterans who sat in the pews. But as the choir sang, “Fairest Lord Jesus,” my lips quivered.

I tried with every syllable to steady my voice, but one lyric pierced my soul.

“He makes the woeful heart to sing.”

I didn’t cry in the elegant way a leading lady might as she dabs her delicate tears with a starched linen handkerchief, but in the mildly disturbing way Tammy Faye might’ve had someone stole her mascara.

Soon, many congregants were crying too, the first sign of emotion since a visitor said “amen” in the summer of ’97.

In the media, church-goers are frequently portrayed as hypocritical, self-righteous rubes. But as a military spouse on that Veteran’s Day, I was actually quite grateful for the church — for the busy-bodies who called when I missed sermons, for the woman who wouldn’t let my 6 year-old be disrespectful, for my jogging buddy who wouldn’t let me cancel our workout (“it’s only sprinkling!”), for my small-group leader who fixed my garage door, for the deacons who promised David they’d bug the daylights out of me until he returned . . . I mean, to prayerfully watch out for me in his absence.

In one of my brief conversations with David, I complained church friends wouldn’t let me wallow in my sadness. “Christians are the worst people in the world,” he said, as both a good Presbyterian and a fan of Winston Churchill. “Except for everyone else.”

And he’s right. Friendships come and go, money’s made and lost, therapists are hired and fired. But one thing will never change — in a time of need, a lady from church will show up uninvited on the doorstep with a casserole dish with her name written on the bottom. She’ll smile and say the soothing words every soul needs to hear: “Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until it’s brown on top.” But before she leaves, she’ll add, “Just bring the dish back . . . at church on Sunday.”

That’s just how they operate.

After several months, I finally adjusted to David being gone, the kids celebrated their birthdays without him, and we frequently sent letters detailing the day’s complaints and joys. And, yes, we attended church. There, someone invariably asked me how I was doing.

“Fine,” I said, like everyone else.

But, because of the church, it somehow managed to be true.

Make it Twenty: The Duggars’ New Pregnancy



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Greg, forget any “Kate Plus Eight, Minus One” drama. The real family-math news is that Michelle Duggar is pregnant again . . . with her 20th child.

“Jim Bob and I are excited to announce that we’re pregnant with baby number 20. We’re due in April and I’m feeling great. All of the children are thrilled and we’re looking forward to welcoming this precious new addition to our family.”

As expected, people are having some pretty strong reactions to the news, especially considering her last child was born three months prematurely. But more than the shock, disgust, horror, and — yes — support people are showing for the family, the real question remains: What on earth will they name this one?

As I found out recently when I saw my first show, they name their children with names beginning with “J.”  Here is their current roster:

Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah, Jennifer, Jordyn-Grace and Josie

When I watched this with my daughter, she was aghast. “You mean they chose Jason only after they selected ‘Jedidiah?’”

Whatever you think of the Duggars, this is one mystery I suppose will be solved soon. God bless this baby, and leave your best “J” suggestion below.

 

Kate Plus Eight, Minus One -- Almost?



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Kate Gosselin is getting criticized for letting her kid play under her van. You can’t see it in the picture, but Kate is behind the wheel when this happened. What say you parents: people making more out of it than it is or a real issue?

Isn’t It Romantic?



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A self-described “Cool Mom” has a blog site to help young men and women hook up smarter, “Hooking Up Smart.” She explains:

I came of age during the 70s and 80s, witnessing (and enjoying) the effects of the sexual revolution.  Our generation straddled the line between traditional dating and hooking up, and I’ve experienced the pros and cons of each.  In recent years, I’ve been a mentor and counselor to young women trying to navigate the hookup culture and find love in a hostile climate.  I’ve learned firsthand that smart, young women are capable of great things armed with encouragement and good information.

“HUS” is the kind of place on the world wide web where “Sex Before Commitment” is a “Tough Call.” At least it’s a question? 

Fire the Government Wet Nurse



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Back in February, the first lady lauded the benefits of breastfeeding, saying “kids who are breastfed longer have a lower tendency to be obese.” She’s right. Breast milk is magic. Not only does it reduce the likelihood of childhood obesity, it contains vital disease-fighting antibodies critical to new babies. And, of course, there are a variety of health benefits for mothers as well.

I breastfed all three of my children, and while it wasn’t always easy, it was free and I knew my kids were getting the best food possible — the food I was designed to provide them. Did I mention it was free?

The first lady isn’t the only government official singing the praises of breastfeeding; the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, and the office of the surgeon general endorse exclusive breastfeeding for six months, as do the leading pediatric organizations. The IRS announced in February that breast pumps and other nursing supplies could qualify for tax breaks. Similar breastfeeding incentives were included in Obamacare; requiring employers to provide “lactation breaks” to their female employees.

Why then, given all of these pro-breastfeeding statement and programs, does the Obama administration continue to support a massive entitlement program that encourages poor women to skip breastfeeding altogether and instead turn to formula for their children’s nutrition needs? Of course, tackling entitlement programs isn’t really the Obama administration’s strong suit, is it?

That entitlement program — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (commonly called WIC) — encourages many moms to skip breastfeeding. Initiated in the mid-70s as a modest program to provide poor mothers with food assistance, the program is now a massive entitlement program that feeds 2.17 million infants a year. That’s approximately half of all infants in the United States.

Because these WIC mothers know that they have access to free formula, there’s an obvious incentive for them to go ahead and use it rather than bothering to breastfeeding — which can be more time-consuming that bottle feeding. 

And in fact, only about one third of WIC mothers breast feed their babies for six months and account for between 57 and 68 percent of formula sales, which suggests that they are more likely than non-WIC moms to turn to formula. Sadly, this is the exact demographic — minorities and poor women — whose children are at highest risk for obesity, and would therefore likely benefit from breast milk the most. 

Few politicians want to hazard criticism of a program like WIC, which is supposed to help just about the most sympathetic subset of society: infants and new mothers. Yet it’s important to recognize how programs like this can backfire on the intended beneficiaries.

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

The End of Men Means the End of Women, Too



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New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the percentage of men between the ages of 25 and 34 living at home rose from 14 percent in 2005 to 19 percent in 2011. Women, on the other hand, are doing just fine. Not only do they dominate today’s college campuses, they have little trouble staying away from mom and dad’s place. That’s because women are flourishing in the workforce while men are not. Writers and pundits blame this phenomenon on the economy, but the trend reflects a much larger sociological problem. America is in the midst of a sea change: Never before has it been more difficult for men and women to find their way to one another, settle in for the long haul, and build strong families together.

To read about it, you’d think the entire mess is out of our hands. You’d think the circumstances involving the roles of men and women in society have happened to us, rather than the other way around. The truth is that we created this new world — and while we may not be able to undo it, we can certainly stop the freight train from running off the tracks.

Hardly a day goes by that we aren’t made aware of this heartbreaking reality. It is so acute we now have not one but six new television series dedicated to men’s social demotion. In these programs, husbands are made to look like fools — while the wives wield a power so ugly it’s no wonder marriage has become so elusive. The modern generation has been sold a bill of goods about human nature, and the result is that men now have no idea how to be men. Why? Because women won’t let them.

There is a large and powerful group of women who see this shift in gender roles as a good thing. Hanna Rosin’s provocative piece in The Atlantic, called “The End of Men,” and Kate Bolick’s new piece “All the Single Ladies” (which may now become a TV series) make light of the demise of masculinity and the role men once played in society. They represent the kind of movers and shakers who help lead the feminist fight. Pointing to the latest statistics about men, they’d be likely to respond, “See how hopeless men are? Everything we’ve been saying about men all these years has proven to be true.”

But the laugh will be on them — if not for their own families, then for their children’s. The feminist policies that were put in place to help women flourish outside the home have suffocated men’s opportunities for economic self-sufficiency. In short, men’s desire to be good workers and family providers has been undermined. This is more than unfortunate; it is a loss of catastrophic proportions, for it is men’s consistent, full-time, year-round work that women depend on in order to live that ever-coveted “balanced life.” What too many women don’t understand (because they’ve been unduly influenced by feminist groupthink) is that male nature is ultimately beneficial to them, for women continue to put family — not career — at the center of their lives and are thus dependent on men to pick up the slack at the office.

It is a dangerous thing to create a society of frustrated young men. Feminists have no idea what a can of worms they’ve created — and what it’s about to do to our nation.

— Suzanne Venker is co-author of the new book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.

We Have a Parenting Problem, Not a Poverty Problem



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I glimpsed a quote from Kati Haycock yesterday, kicking off the Education Trust annual conference, saying that we can’t let “bad parenting” be an excuse for poor educational results. She’s absolutely right, of course. It’s not as if our schools are running on all cylinders (especially schools serving poor kids), and if only parents were doing their jobs too, achievement would soar. And we’ve got several examples of school models that are making a tremendous difference in educational outcomes for kids, regardless of what’s happening at home.

That said, it strikes me as highly unlikely that we’re ever going to significantly narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the “good parenting gap” between rich and poor families, too. (And yes, I know I’m going to catch a lot of grief for saying that.)

Let’s admit it: The broader/bolder types are right when they say that a lot of what influences student achievement happens outside of schools, and before kids ever step foot in kindergarten. Where they are wrong, I believe, is in thinking that turbo-charged government programs can compensate for the real challenge: what’s happening inside the home.

Conservatives used to talk about this, but for whatever reason they’ve been awfully silent lately. Perhaps that’s starting to change. A new book by Minnesota think tanker Mitch Pearlstein addresses the issue head on. And today, in the Washington Post, compassionate conservative Michael Gerson argues that issues such as divorce and teenage pregnancies are what’s dampening social mobility.

So let’s get specific: What can parents do to increase the chances of their children doing well in school? Let’s just start with the zero-to-five years.

Wait until you’ve graduated from high school and you’re married to have children. Stay married. Don’t drink or smoke when you’re pregnant. Get regular pre-natal check-ups. Nurse your baby instead of using a bottle. Talk and sing to your baby a lot. As you child grows, be firm but loving. Limit TV watching, especially in the early years. Spark your child’s curiosity by taking field trips to parks, museums, nature centers, etc. Read, baby, read.

For virtually all of these items, we’ve got evidence that affluent parents are much more likely to engage in these behaviors than poor parents. And what makes it easier for affluent parents to do these things isn’t mostly money (more on that below) but numbers one and two: Getting married, and staying married. It’s a hell of a lot harder (though not impossible, of course) to be a great parent when you’re doing the job alone than when you’ve got a partner. And in case you haven’t noticed, out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates and divorce rates have reached catastrophic levels for the poor and the working class — but not for the most affluent and well-educated among us.

As mentioned above, the Left’s answer to this challenge is a panoply of social programs. Home visits for pregnant women. Community health centers. Head Start. I’ve got no complaints with these, especially if they can show evidence of working.

But we’re still dancing around the issue if we don’t address the family directly. Imagine we could convince most poor teenagers — whether they be black, white, or Hispanic — to save child-rearing for their 20s, and to get and stay married first. Getting them to adopt healthy parenting behaviors, then, would be much more doable, even on a limited budget. (See the innovative work that GreatSchools.net is doing on this front.) You don’t have to be Richy Rich to nurse your baby, or sing to her, or learn how to be loving but firm. Sure, a few of these items are easier with money. (I imagine that low-income families use TV as a babysitter more because they can’t afford alternative childcare.) But mostly these take commitment, discipline, and practice.

So how do we spark a marriage renaissance, especially for poor and working class families? Honestly, I don’t have a clue. Some argue for family-friendly tax incentives; others think a religious revival is what’s needed. I would vote for middle schools and high schools that are unafraid to preach a pro-marriage, wait-till-you’re-older-to-have-babies message — paternalistic charter schools or religious schools in particular. In other words, this is another strong argument for school choice.

Whatever the solutions, let’s at least start talking about the problem. Pat Moynihan tried to warn us long ago that our national experiment with large-scale single parenthood would turn out badly. He was right, and then some. Let’s not wait any longer to do something about it.

— Michael J. Petrilli is executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Science Creates Super Broccoli



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Does it taste like chocolate? If not, back to work, nerds:

Popeye might want to consider switching to broccoli. British scientists unveiled a new breed of the vegetable that experts say packs a big nutritional punch.

The new broccoli was specially grown to contain two to three times the normal amount of glucoraphanin, a nutrient believed to help ward off heart disease.

“Vegetables are a medicine cabinet already,” said Richard Mithen, who led the team of scientists at the Institute for Food Research in Norwich, England, that developed the new broccoli. “When you eat this broccoli . . . you get a reduction in cholesterol in your blood stream,” he told Associated Press Television.

An AP reporter who tasted the new broccoli found it was the same as the regular broccoli. Scientists, however, said it should taste slightly sweeter because it contains less sulphur.

The rest here.

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